Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Zoom Talk: Anton Alexandrov (Barcelona)

Meeting ID: 980 1222 9580

05.05.2022 16:00  – 18:00 

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Explication in Perspective: Convictions, Structure, Shape


Most of the time, custemory in-house-theorizing about explication chiefly addresses the structure and procedure of explication, particular criteria of adequacy and relations among them, as well as the scope of application of the method. Although the debate contains many subtle and insightful contributions, one can worry about certain tendencies. One such tendency is to uncritically accept Carnap‘s initial set of examples. Another tendency is to privilege certain types of examples without argument. In each case, such decisions have consequences for the final account of explication one accepts. Moreover, the source of such tendencies is that within the debate about explication the method is rarely explicitly connected to broader metaphysical and epistemological issues. Background assumptions about these issues are present and effective, but not put at center-stage of the debate.

In this talk, I reflect about explication in a different way. Instead of focusing on the details mentioned above, I put explication in perspective. I examine two different sets of convictions which center at the very motivation of the method. Each set focuses on structural features relevant to meaning determination and, subsequently, to the degree of indeterminacy of meaning one ends up with. Depending on which set of convictions one prefers, explication takes quite a different shape.

The first perspective is a Carnapian one (CP); the second an Alternative one (AP). CP is marked by the conviction that, in general, meaning is inherently indeterminate. This conviction is partially grounded in another one: internalism about meaning. When these two convictions are paired with the endorsement of the internal/external distinction and the principle of tolerance, explication seems not only to be ubiquitous, but appears, quite naturally, as the most powerful method a philosopher may use. In contrast, AP starts with externalism about meaning which in turn limits considerably the amount of meaning indeterminacy. Moreover, this kind of externalism rests upon a robust metaphysical realism which leaves little room for tolerance. This set of convictions cast doubt about whether most of Carnap’s initial examples are ones of explication at all. It appears more natural to see them as cases of ordinary theorizing without conceptual replacement taking place.

The main goal of the talk is to present and contrast the two perspectives in a succinct way and, by that, to gain a better intellectual control over the interpretation and understanding of the classical examples of explication. The upshot of the talk is that while CP grants decision a constitutive role in the interpretation of the examples, AP reserves that honor to discovery.